The Necessity of Play

Posted on: January 28th, 2012 by Kay Swatkowski

The Bride

Children need the freedom and time to play. Play is not a luxury. Play is a necessity.

Kay Redfield Jamison

Play gives children a chance to practice what they are learning…They have to play with what they know to be true in order to find out more, and then they can use what they learn in new forms of play.

Fred Rogers

I went to a wedding yesterday.  The bride wore a gown from Disney (Belle from Beauty and the Beast, I think) and carried a bouquet of silk flowers snatched from an arrangement on the dining room table.  She walked down the stairs and aisle to strains of Pachelbel Canon in D provided by Pandora.  After saying the “I Dos” the bride and groom (Mr. Monkey) enjoyed their first dance.  Cheez-Its and apple juice replaced the traditional wedding cake and champagne.

I love it.

Children’s play is important.  Play is where they take what they are learning and hearing and incorporate it into their lives.  They work out their understanding of family relationships and roles, friendships, adventure, work and even conflict.  Imaginative play is emotionally healing for children who have suffered loss or trauma.  They may begin to make sense or peace with what they have lost as they play.  Playing pirates or house can remind them that life is still adventurous and fun.

Toys are great.  Toys are important.  Imaginative play is even more important.

I believe imaginative play is a stress reliever for children.  Child psychologists believe that imaginative play is essential for emotional and cognitive development and teaches a child how to self-regulate.  When a child self-regulates they are able to think things through and manage their emotions.  In imaginative play a child talks to himself, plans out the next action himself and has control over the play.  In this way, the child learn to think things through and plan.  As he creates his own story lines he begins to see that actions have consequences.  He begins to self-regulate.

As children, my sisters and I  spent hundreds of unsupervised hours in our backyard.  We picked leaves and turned them into soup.  We hunted for fairies under the pine trees.  We picked lilacs for our wedding bouquets.  I have warm memories of childhood play. I also realize that I reached some conclusions about life as I played. No matter the scenario of the imaginative play, things always worked out for my characters.  Life was always good. God was always there.

What did you play?  What did you imagine?  Were you a princess wearing a sheet?  Did you make your own tiara out of cardboard and glitter?  Were you a sailor saving innocent travelers from ruthless, greedy pirates?  What did you learn from those playful times?

Here are a few things you can do to promote imaginative play.

  • Give children free time.  They are over-scheduled.  If once in a while your child doesn’t say “I’m bored!” they are over-scheduled.
  • Find a safe place for them to have the freedom to create their imaginative play without your constant supervision.  Is your backyard fenced in?  Have a relative with a great backyard?  How about building a tree house? What about investing some time and money into creating a great playroom in your basement?
  • A dress up box is a must.  Our 3 year old granddaughter’s imagination has been fueled by a dress up box given to her by Aunt Lindy and Uncle Jon.  She can be any version of a princess she wants to be!  Every store has great dress up clothes for kids now.  Samantha’s box was filled with princess outfits. Get some old hats, old blouses, cheap jewelry, old shoes and even old gloves and keep them in a special box.  Let the children have the freedom to play with those things whenever they want.
  • Tents and forts are great ways to spur on imagination.  Come back to our site in March for idea on how to make a tent that is easy to set up and take down as well as a cute article on how to build a blanket fort in the living room.
  • Grocery store is a great way to have some imaginative play.  It is time-consuming and messy to allow the kids in the pantry for cans and boxes, but our  oldest grandkids still remember setting up shop in our little living room.
  • Tell your grandkids about your imaginative play as a child.
  • Join in sometimes.  Be a swashbuckling pirate or be “the child” when they are playing house.  Have fun.

Childhood is a time of imagination.  There is a reason for that.  Imagination and play are two ways that they grow and develop.

And, it is just plain fun!

Maybe you could help the rest of us grandmas by leaving your thoughts below?  What did you play as a child?  What would you put in a dress up box?  What other things could you have on hand that would encourage imaginative play?  How do you feel about joining in?

This article was inspired by a great article entitled “Old Fashioned Play.”  I just read it this morning, so here is a link to that article. http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=19212514

Sammi and Maddi's Fort




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